I’m a big believer that journalists must do more for the improvement and protection of journalism than what it takes for them to collect their paychecks. That, in part, is why I am a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.
And that, I suspect, is one reason why you’re an SPJ member, too.
Look no further than the Society’s Web site to see much (but not all, by any stretch) of the amazing work our members and staff accomplish in only one week. There’s not enough room in this magazine — let alone this column — to provide all of the important details. By simply paying dues and giving the occasional extra gift, you help make possible that dizzying array of good.
For that, you have the Society’s sincere thanks.
But why stop there? Sure, our sincere thanks is nice, but it’s not that nice. SPJ can’t afford to send engraved pens, flowers or coupons for gourmet coffee. Your name doesn’t appear in headlines or on plaques at the Society’s Indianapolis headquarters. We don’t even necessarily mention you in Quill magazine.
But hey, if you’re happy with only our sincere thanks, then thanks!
And if you’re not happy? If you’re feeling SPJ amounts to little more than the old saw, “a Quill and a bill,” or some distant organization that does good for everyone but you? Then consider being more like Holly Edgell, Bill Gannon, Meghan Murphy and Caryn Rousseau.
Each one of these remarkable people has found time to forge friendships and offer quick-hit advice and instruction to other SPJ members. They’ve learned it takes only a few hours of their time each year — that’s right a year — to reap lasting, personal rewards from their SPJ membership. The Society has, of course, benefited from their work tremendously.
Edgell, an assistant professor at the Missouri School of Journalism and executive producer at KOMU, has worked doggedly to convince other ethnic minorities and broadcasters to join the Society.
Gannon, editorial director of Yahoo! News, is a rock star in the online news world. Yet, he makes time to meet with SPJ members when they’re visiting his neck of the woods.
He dashes out e-mail to help others make professional connections. On very short notice, he flew to SPJ’s national conference in Chicago and volunteered to serve on the Society’s national Ethics Committee. “It’s really very simple,” he told me. “I believe in giving back.”
Murphy, the editor of a small newspaper in a tiny Colorado town, joined SPJ’s national Freedom of Information Committee rather than grumble about living roughly two hours away from the Denver hub of SPJ’s Colorado Pro Chapter and the many events it hosts. She instead chats with folks living throughout the country who feel as passionately about FOI issues as she does. She feels connected to SPJ as a result.
Rousseau, the Midwest correspondent for the Associated Press’ new service focused on young adults, decided SPJ’s senior leadership could use an infusion of fresh ideas from other energetic and tech-savvy 20-somethings. She’s now chairwoman of SPJ’s fledgling Generation J Committee because she also believes young journalists nationwide could use some serious schooling about why they need to support — even fight for — SPJ’s core missions. That group is poised to blow everyone’s socks off this year.
These people could have sat back and waited for SPJ to deliver fabulous goods and services to their doorstep. They could have focused on SPJ’s weak spots, such as its lack of ethnic diversity and inability to sustain a chapter in every American town. They could have dropped their membership without attempting to help the Society make healthy changes. But no, these members have chosen to dream up their own fun instead. They are inspired, and they are inspiring to others.
How about you? If you’re questioning the value of your SPJ membership, please contact me right away at firstname.lastname@example.org. I have more than a few ideas about how you could receive not only SPJ’s sincere thanks, but its profound respect — and a tremendous sense of personal satisfaction.
Christine Tatum is a business writer for The Denver Post. Before moving to Colorado in 2003, she worked for The Chicago Tribune as a media hybrid, covering technology for the newspaper, producing the tech section of chicagotribune.com and appearing weekly to discuss technology news on CLTV, a local station owned by the Tribune Co. Her career stops also include Tribune Media Services, The (Arlington Heights, Ill.) Daily Herald and The News & Record of Greensboro, N.C. Tatum is a North Carolina native and a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Contact her at email@example.com
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